The Exchange

Commentary and Observations from
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Heart Disease and Cancer Risk

Heart Disease and Cancer Risk

According to data to be presented this month at the American Heart Association's (AHA) 2019 Scientific Sessions, heart attack survivors may have an increased risk of developing cancer compared to individuals without cardiovascular (CV) disease, and in general, the risk increases with the number of CV risk factors an individual has.

The researchers used data from the Framingham Heart Study, which evaluated data from 12,712 participants who did not have CVD or cancer at study onset. CV risk was measured using biomarkers and the AHA/American College of Cardiology's atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) risk estimator. Over the 15-year study period, there were 1670 new cases of cancer: 19% gastrointestinal; 18% breast; 16% prostate; and 11% lung.

Additionally, the researchers discovered that:

  • Individuals with CV risk factors concerning age, sex, hypertension, and smoking were independently associated with cancer
  • Individuals with a 10-year ASCVD risk of 20% or higher were three times more likely to develop any type of cancer than those with a 10-year ASCVD risk of 5% or lower
  • Individuals who developed any type of CVD during the study period had a sevenfold increased risk for subsequent cancer compared to those who didn’t experience any cardiac event
  • Individuals who were found to have high brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) levels were more likely to get cancer during the 15-year follow-up period than those with low levels of BNP

It was stated that cancer and CVD have many common risk factors, such as tobacco use, poor nutrition, and lack of physical activity. It was also determined that many of the same lifestyle habits that reduce the risk of heart disease can reduce the risk of some kinds of cancer. So, it was hypothesized that following the AHA Life's Simple 7 may help prevent both diseases. The Simple 7 includes recommendations to eat a healthy diet (we all know more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein are beneficial), and to be physically active for the recommended 150 minutes per week. Patients should also be counseled to avoid all tobacco/nicotine products and to attain and maintain a healthy body weight, cholesterol, glucose, and blood pressure.

The authors did warn that this was an observational study, so while it doesn't prove cause and effect, it nonetheless highlights the connection between heart disease and cancer.

  • American Heart Association. Heart disease and cancer risk may be linked: American Heart Association scientific sessions, poster presentation Mo3058. Accessed November 23, 2019.
  • Tu H, Wen CP, Tsai SP, et al. Cancer risk associated with chronic diseases and disease markers: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2018;360:k134.

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Filed under: Cardiometabolic

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